CAREER: Adaptive Actuation and Control in Embodied Biohybrid Robots

Animals are often a source of inspiration in robotic design. By designing from animal blueprints, engineers can create robotic systems capable of walking, running, crawling, swimming, and even flying. However, even with the advances in robotics over the past decades, robotic systems still fall short of many of the capabilities seen in biological animals. One key difference between existing robots and their animal counterparts is that biological systems are made up of soft, adaptable materials, including muscles for actuation and neurons for control. This CAREER award investigates how to fabricate robust, adaptable actuators for biohybrid robots using living muscle, how these actuators adapt to exercise, and how to control biohybrid robots with living neurons. Additionally, this CAREER award supports educational and outreach initiatives to improve recruitment and retention of diverse students and faculty in robotics and STEM. Accessible age-appropriate educational materials based on the research outcomes will be developed, made available to middle and high school teachers, and integrated into a graduate course on Bioinspired Robotics. The research team will host virtual and in-person outreach events to introduce students to bioinspired and biohybrid robotics. Underrepresented undergraduate students will be recruited for summer research experiences in biohybrid robotics and modeling. Finally, the investigator will promote tools for recruitment and retention of women faculty in robotics.

Funding Agency: NSF - Foundational Research in Robotics Program

Project Period: 4/2021 - 3/2026

Abstract Page: NSF-2044785


Research team

Victoria Webster-Wood headshot

Victoria Webster-Wood

Associate Professor
Mechanical Engineering

Courtesy appointments
Biomedical Engineering, Robotics Institute

Ashlee Liao headshot

Ashlee Liao


Research Interests
biorobotics, biomechanics, neural controls
Saul Schaffer headshot

Saul Schaffer


Research Interests
biohybrid actuators, prosthetics, 3D printing, metamaterials
Hima Hrithik Pamu headshot

Hima Hrithik Pamu


Research Interests
Soft robotics

Research videos

Peer-reviewed publications

* Indicates these authors contributed equally and may both list themselves as the first author of this work.

  1. Liao, Ashlee S. and Cui, Wenxin and Zhang, Yongjie Jessica and Webster-Wood, Victoria A. “Semi-Automated Quantitative Evaluation of Neuron Developmental Morphology In Vitro Using the Change-Point Test” Neuroinformatics, 2022 

  2. Sun, Wenhuan and Webster-Wood, Victoria “An integrated computer vision system for real-time monitoring and control of long-fiber embedded hydrogel 3D printing” Materials Today: Proceedings, v.70, 2022

  3. Sun, Wenhuan and Tashman, Joshua W. and Shiwarski, Daniel J. and Feinberg, Adam W. and Webster-Wood, Victoria A. “Long-Fiber Embedded Hydrogel 3D Printing for Structural Reinforcement” ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering, 2021

  4. Webster-Wood, Victoria A. and Guix, Maria and Xu, Nicole W. and Behkam, Bahareh and Sato, Hirotaka and Sarkar, Deblina and Sanchez, Samuel and Shimizu, Masahiro and Parker, Kevin Kit “Biohybrid robots: recent progress, challenges, and perspectives” Bioinspiration & Biomimetics, v.18, 2022

  5. Qian, Kuanren and Pawar, Aishwarya and Liao, Ashlee and Anitescu, Cosmin and Webster-Wood, Victoria and Feinberg, Adam W. and Rabczuk, Timon and Zhang, Yongjie Jessica “Modeling neuron growth using isogeometric collocation based phase field method” Scientific Reports, v.12, 2022